April 06, 2007


We sit in the living room, both of them with their heads deep as well buckets in the latest fantasy series, the nth and xth volume of the such-and-such saga, while I’m running my hand over old phonograph records (Sinatra, In the Wee Small Hours; Monk, Monk’s Mood; Charles Lloyd, Forest Flower), or hauling stray balls of dust to the garbage pail in the kitchen, or rushing to the study and lifting the lid of the computer to find no emails. We hardly talk. Or else they laugh and try to kick each other off the couch while one is challenging the other to name the clans of all the feline warriors in one of their books, and I’m telling them Don’t kick the furniture, and I’m telling them again Don’t kick the furniture, or else we’re deciding which Monty Python disc to watch and taking turns doing the silliest walk. But sometimes I drift away, I check the rice and linger in the kitchen putting dishes in the dishwasher and flipping through the movie listings and forgetting that the boys are a room away, with me for a short time only. I might even take a book and a glass of Lillet to the front porch and read in the rocking chair while they’re out back, a whole house away, throwing dodgeballs into each other’s guts. Then I ask myself, Why aren’t I with them every possible second? Why aren’t I seizing and storing every vanishing glimpse of them? I only have them less than half the time now, and their childhoods will soon be ending, the older one’s almost twelve, a year from now he might be a whole different creature, one who doesn’t stretch up from his bed to throw his arms around me and tell me I’m the perfect father for him, some other kids wouldn’t be as good a match with me. Sometimes I think I ought to run back and tell them, I didn’t forget you!, and fix my greedy stare on them and not let an instant go by.

But I let myself stay away. Because when they’re out back and I’m on the front porch, I’m still with them. When they’re in their feline warrior fantasy worlds and I’m a Royal Navy ship’s doctor in 1803, we’re all in the same place without hovering over each other, without turning every gesture into a photograph, without videotaping every word for a future when we’ll have nothing to do except look back. If we put a frame around ourselves, if we lit ourselves with stage lights, we’d be starring in a re-enactment of our lives rather than living them.

This is the life of a family. This self-absorption, this shared separateness in the same room, this silence and slow time. We are three galaxies expanding side by side, we are entangled particles at lightyears’ distance. We are connected by superstrings.

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